Saturday, March 26, 2005

Crossing guard.

The New York Times has a story in tomorrow's paper about a Texas state official, Darin Kosmak, the railroad section director in the Texas Department of Transportation, who has been helping railroads sued after accidents at crossings by signing affidavits stating that federal money was spent on crossbucks (railroad warning signs). Apparently courts have ruled that if federal money was spent, that is enough to pre-empt state-law claims that the warnings were insufficient. (This sounds bizarre: The use of federal funds can hardly amount to a federal determination that the warnings suffice, but no one asked me.) Kosmak's affidavits have helped many a railroad escape liability, or settle on favorable terms. The very fact that a state official is providing declarations in this fashion to the railroads strikes me as corrupt in some sense, though the Times does not pause for that notion.

No, it turns out that Kosmak has been signing affidavits stating that he had personal knowledge that federal funds had been used for the signage at specific crossings when that wasn't -- how to put this -- true.
But now, the truth of those affidavits is being called into question. According to his court testimony, Mr. Kosmak recently admitted that his sworn statements misrepresented - unintentionally, he says - what he knew about those crossings. He repeated that admission in an interview last week.

* * * * *

In the Enriquez case, Mr. Kosmak, who is the railroad section director in the Texas Department of Transportation, signed an affidavit saying that all of Union Pacific's crossings in Texas protected by crossbucks had "received the benefit of federal funds between approximately 1977 and 1981." He said he based his assertion on either "personal knowledge" or records of a federal program that operated for those years.

But last October, Mr. Kosmak admitted that he had no proof that those federal funds were used at any Texas rail crossing.

"We don't have specific records that exist any longer of any specific location," Mr. Kosmak said in an interview.

Mr. Crow said the federal program was intended only to bring all crossbucks up to certain standards; those already meeting standards were left alone, he said.
In other words, he perjured himself.

It appears that Kosmak is going to suffer no consequences -- apart, perhaps, from being exposed in the national newspaper of record as a dolt who signs documents without bothering to read or think hard about them. Which is more than you can say for some of the families of those who were killed or injured at crossings with allegedly deficient crossbucks.
Nancy J. Stone, a lawyer in Amarillo, Tex., said important claims in a lawsuit she filed arising from the death of a father and two children at a Texas grade crossing were dismissed on the eve of trial in late 2002 because of Mr. Kosmak's testimony. "It's an unbelievable injustice," Ms. Stone said, adding that the ruling left her no choice but to settle the case.
No offense to Ms. Stone, but you have to wonder about the plaintiffs' attorneys who didn't bother to cross-examine Mr. Kosmak. Good thing someone finally did.

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